Stones, pellets, bloodshed and hopelessness

The street protests have become a norm. They are a symbol of defiance and rebellion, making everything else a casualty – routine mundane life, education, health care – and are putting people to inconvenience as well as physical harm. Everybody agrees they need to be stopped but where do the answers lie, beyond the condemnation and sympathy? Given the moral and political complexity of Kashmir’s conflict, the answers do not come as easily.

A school bus carrying little children was stone pelted in Kashmir, injuring two students last week. If street protests are an expression of anger or stem from political aspirations of ‘azadi’, how do harassed and injured school going children fulfill that cause?

With young boys increasingly joining the ranks of militants, despite the shortage and availability of guns; and college and school going students including girls hitting the streets almost on a regular basis with stones, despite knowing the lethal consequences of facing the fully equipped and geared military and police personnel combating them, the Valley is showing an increasing appetite for violence. Unarmed people voluntarily flee to the neighbouring villages as soon as they hear the news of the beginning of an encounter in a bid to save the militants from the huge contingent of war-ready security forces. As 9 to 20 year olds from schools and colleges begin to hit the streets with a new found energy, almost on a daily basis, in one or the other part of the Valley, the natural fallout is that this rage on the streets will turn blind and uncontrollable. Without fathoming the sense of desperation that guides this generation to willingly walk into the jaws of death, offering itself as cannon fodder in a conflict that is becoming more complex and more intractable by the day, it is difficult to understand why this rage that has been in the making since 2008 has turned so hopelessly blind and almost beyond repair.

The stone is but a symptom. The disease is much larger. Pent up anger overflowing on the streets is one of the causes. Shrinking of space for giving vent to expressions peacefully may be another. Continuum of human rights abuse fuelling that anger is yet another. But that does not explain the repeated pattern of protests on a regular basis. The revolving door detentions and the horrifyingly high number of FIRs registered against many youngsters caught in stone pelting is not a deterrent but acts more as a stimulant in perpetuating the protests. For some, protest might be an act of defiance that they find themselves committed to. For many others, once caught on charges of stone pelting, there is no getaway. They find themselves caught in a vicious circle of arrests, detentions and clamping of criminal charges. They are on the police records and on slightest of suspicion are picked up and detained. Many of them in their teens are already fed up of their lives. Some of them turn their misery into heroic achievements. They are mostly teenagers, who have learnt to talk about the long list of FIRs lodged against them and their pellet injuries as a badge of honour. Some among them take the plunge into militancy, though that may not be the only reason to pick up arms.

Youngsters come out on the streets. Trigger happy security forces respond with their ammunition of tear gas shells, bullets and pellets; or crackdown on them in raids and cordon operations. The casualties suffered, as a consequence, fuel more protests and this goes on like an endless cycle, which has become extremely difficult to break. The restraint that the government and security forces assure about often could be instrumental in breaking this chain but that does not seem to be coming. The state government seems clueless and powerless. The Centre is guided by its rigid posturing on Kashmir and the acute contempt for Kashmiris that the party in power is known to have nursed for decades. The State which should have shared a greater responsibility has instead played a role at multiple levels, through political discourse and military actions, that provokes and fuels the rage on the streets. Anger, violence and blood bath goes hand in hand, the Valley drenched in blood of militants, security personnel and civilians, causing a de-humanising psychological impact on the minds of people, especially the youngsters. The blood on either side is glorified to keep the thirst for more blood alive. The situation is not just dismal but hopeless. As the Irish militant in the film The Devil’s Own tells the American-Irish cop, summing up the situation of inescapable grief, tragedy and bloodshed he is caught in: “There’s no happy ending; This ain’t an American story. It’s an Irish one.”

The worst part is that New Delhi shows no inclination for resolving the conflict. Previous governments learnt to deal with Kashmir by managing the conflict. The present one has gone beyond that and hopes to crush Kashmir, fuel it and use it as fodder to appease its Hindutva constituency. The vested interests, both the state and non-state actors, for whom the conflict has turned out to be a profitable enterprise, continue to add to the chaos for petty interests.

Those who support the several violent forms of resistance including stone pelting and the gun hope to tire out the security agencies or, at least, effect maximum casualties in a bid to bleed the Indian state. Even the bloodshed of the security personnel does not inspire the political dispensation to think of innovative ways in which anger and violence can be scaled down. The bloodshed of the Kashmiri civilians and militants is only fodder for a parochial political discourse that suits the party in power. But those blinded by uncontrollable rage hardly ever halt to think how unwittingly they have become pawns in the game, their actions serving not the cause they believe they espouse but the interests of those they seek to fight; their actions not hurting those they fight but those they believe they are fighting for.

Ideally, the State should have shown magnanimity, maturity and sensitivity. It hasn’t. And what if it continues not to? Then in response to a sadist tormentor, would Kashmir’s stone pelting teenagers and youth happily turn themselves into masochists and burn the Valley down? Or do they need to channelize their energies through other forms of resistance? There may be no dearth of ideas or ways in which space can be squeezed for alternate methodologies. But the larger question is who will engage with these youngsters to acquaint them with newer ideas and how? There are only questions, as yet, and they need some serious pondering over.

News Updated at : Sunday, May 6, 2018